STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Students from a Florida high school spent the weekend demanding action after last week's mass shooting. They've been contacting reporters, and one, Emma Gonzalez, delivered a speech advocating gun control.
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EMMA GONZALEZ: Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have ever been done to prevent this - we call BS.
GONZALEZ: We say that tough - they say that tougher gun laws do not decrease gun violence. We call BS.
INSKEEP: The students are demanding that Congress act in a way that it has not after past shootings. Our next guest is the congressman representing Parkland, Fla., Democrat Ted Deutch. Congressman, good morning.
TED DEUTCH: Good morning. How are you?
INSKEEP: And my condolences to the people of your district.
DEUTCH: Thanks so much.
INSKEEP: What can you realistically push for in Congress?
DEUTCH: Well, first of all, there's a whole lot that Congress can do, but I just want to spend a second pointing out why Congress is going to do it. And that's the voices of Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg and all of these other incredibly brave and eloquent and powerful high school students who understand that since Columbine, 150,000 students have been affected in 170 schools around the country. They are not going to just sit back and allow this to be one more statistic. So they're organizing a march. They're - they've been active. They're going to Tallahassee. There's so much they're going to.
Here's what can happen in Washington. There are the easy things that have always been beaten back, mostly by the gun lobby. All right, we ought to be able to have universal background checks. We ought to be able to ensure that if you're too dangerous to get on a plane then you can't buy a gun. Those are - those have overwhelming support. We ought to pass those right away. We ought to pass mental health legislation that will better fund our mental health system. And we need to look at our schools.
But we also have to look at guns and the fact that these assault rifles serve no purpose except maximum killing. These students want those guns to be made illegal as they were until 2004. And there is growing consensus that they're right and that's what we need (unintelligible).
INSKEEP: Let me ask about the politics of this first. You did give a true statistic there. The Washington Post, among others, have noted this - 150,000 people - students - attended schools where there were mass shootings since Columbine - a lot of students affected. But part of the history of the failure of gun control efforts over the past decade is that around 2006 or so, Democrats - your party - effectively backed off of gun control, decided it was a political loser. And a few years later, when President Obama wanted to move after the Sandy Hook massacre, the party really wasn't built for it. It hadn't been built around that issue. Have you laid the groundwork now?
DEUTCH: There is a - there's a website, a hashtag, social media accounts about this march, Steve, that's coming up in Washington, the @AMarch4OurLives, on March 24. When you talk about whether the groundwork has been laid, here's what's different since what happened at Sandy Hook or, frankly, in the 19 years since Columbine. What's different is politically is that these mass shootings, these slaughters at the hands of deranged killers with automatic - semiautomatic assault rifles have taken place in every part of this country, have impacted the lives of families all across the country, from Orlando to Las Vegas, now here in Parkland. So this is - look, politicians - as these students have reminded all of us, politicians act unfortunately often only when they are forced to. And these...
INSKEEP: But is this something that is going to force not just Democrats who, as we pointed out, have not always advocated gun control that strongly - force Democrats, as well as Republicans, who are concerned about the Second Amendment to pass even one of the measures that you listed at the top?
DEUTCH: Right. Well, if you - the power of these students' voices I think absolutely does that, and here's why. I understand that, and they understand - they're - these kids are not just - they're not just eloquent. They are sophisticated. They understand the power that the gun lobby has wielded for so long in Washington. And what they've been doing these past few days so bravely is they've been calling out every elected official who has put the interests of the gun lobby ahead of public safety in their own districts. And that's an incredibly powerful message.
And on March 24, when crowds show up in D.C., you're going to see actually - I'm going to tell you - I spent a good part of last night with the father of one of the victims who is going to dedicate the next few weeks and months - however long it takes - to come with me to Washington. You ask, are Republicans willing to do this? There is broad bipartisan support. Speaker Ryan is control - he - in control. If he brings these to the floor for a vote, they will pass (unintelligible).
INSKEEP: You think there are Republicans who would approve a variety of gun control measures - very briefly.
DEUTCH: I think that when the overwhelming majority of Americans, including NRA members, support positions that will provide for gun safety, yes, they would pass if he brings them up for a vote.
INSKEEP: Congressman Ted Deutch of Florida, thank you very much.
DEUTCH: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.